FEBRUARY 5, 2013
Apart from curiosity as an Oliver Stone fan, my main interest in seeing Greystone Park (starring, directed, and co-written by Oliver's son Sean) is that the commentary track got written up in the AVClub's wonderful column called "Commentary Tracks of the Damned", where they don't really review the movie but the commentary that accompanies it, pointing out the various "crimes" of the participants, noting when they get pretentious, and summing up the track with one choice comment that more or less describes the entire thing. I read it even if I haven't seen the movie, and thus I wanted to wait to rent this until I knew I'd have time for what sounded like a pretty memorable (not in a good way) listen.
But first I had to get through the movie, which was pretty damn bad as it turns out. I like the general concept behind it, and I can almost forgive some of their filmmaking choices, but it doesn't change the fact that the movie is a frustrating, highly unlikable experience that seems to WANT the audience to hate it. How else to explain the near constant darkness that makes it difficult to tell who is even talking let alone what they are doing at the time? 90% of the scares are invisible to our eyes - the characters suddenly just start screaming and running, later telling us "someone with gray hair just walked by!" or whatever. You can (and SHOULD) get away with a few such scares, but this is almost all of them, and they don't seem that scary anyway - they hear noises or see shadows and to them it's like suddenly being face to face with Pennywise the Clown or something. To me, I just assumed it was the crew of one of the 609 other found footage movies about abandoned asylums shooting their own tired scare scenes in the adjacent room or floor.
Now, one thing I DO like about this movie is that it practically takes place in real time; the trio head out one night around sundown and things go to hell pretty instantly, with most of the movie being their attempts to find a way out and/or regroup as someone always gets separated. With so many of these movies having me wondering why they had so much battery power and tape to film so much, this was a relief of sorts, and it helped keep the energy up - despite a clear image of what was usually happening, it was always on the move. And the sloppy camerawork was acceptable as well to some degree - I'd rather look at 30 seconds of someone's foot than get perfectly framed shots in one of these things, as this way helps sell the illusion more. But they gotta meet us halfway on such things - I mean I LITERALLY had no idea what the hell was going on throughout at least half of the movie, because it was just a total black image or so heavily distorted that what I COULD make out didn't help me much.
Worse, you can still HEAR the insufferable two male characters, who apparently improvised much of their dialogue using their favorite words: "Dude", "Fuck", and "What" (as in "What was that?" or "What the fuck?"). When they're not dropping this form of Shakespeare on us, they're rambling about Medusa, shadow men (what they call ghosts), and realms, all of which comes off as extremely pretentious. It's like listening to that asshat from Paranormal State talk about "Ghost time" for 90 minutes straight or something, and worse, most of what they're spouting off about doesn't seem to be part of what is going on. At one point their friends are revealed to have been messing with them, but without any clear explanation as to HOW MUCH they were behind and how much was the work of the "Shadow men". Then they just start grasping at straws, suggesting that their female companion (the only tolerable character) was a ghost the whole time, or that they were merely going crazy, or that one of them was possessed by the spirit of a former patient. It's the same sort of thing that Session 9 tried, but nowhere near as successful - Session 9 worked because we had real characters to latch on to, a coherent storyline, and, well, visible imagery. This has Oliver Stone smoking a hookah and telling a pretty lame ghost story.
It's also a complete slap in the face to anyone who puts a modicum of effort into presenting these movies as actual documentary/found footage, as there are cutaways that would be impossible to achieve with a single camera, including a few instances where it seems that a character has passed the camera to another mid conversation and then back again. Stone also adds a (decent) score as well, for some reason, further making this harder to believe as someone's filmed account of an event. Not to mention, the total darkness often makes it hard to tell who is filming because we can't really see who is "on-screen" in order to use process of elimination. Add in the various dialogue overlaps and back and forth editing (the dinner party is returned to a couple of times) and you have what mostly just feels like a typical modern shaki-cam movie, albeit with fewer lights.
At least the commentary didn't disappoint, since I was specifically listening to it to hear the same sort of gibberish that the movie unfortunately wallowed in as well. The three stars drone on and on about shadow men, pointing out several that a viewer would miss (likely because they were still trying to adjust their eyes to see the main part of the image), and discussing all of the freaky things that happened while filming. Every noise in the distance and wrong number phone is chalked up to supernatural phenomena, and after awhile the track starts to sound more like the paranoid ramblings of a guy with a CB radio than a film commentary. The multiple locations are pointed out and every now and then they tell a shooting story that sounds normal enough, but they always snap right back into "trying to convince us that this is real" mode, even though Sean refers to himself and his father as "Sean" and "Oliver" (i.e. like characters) and points out the idiotic CGI faces that they put in to try to scare us.
Same goes for the two making of featurettes, which might as well be footage from the movie (albeit lit properly) as it's more of the same nonsense about mysterious distorted phone calls and such. The one on locations is slightly better since the real hospitals and their histories are far more interesting than the story of the movie (which also includes some basic information on these establishments), but just rent Titicut Follies if you want to know more about them. The alternate ending offers up some text-based epilogue that works slightly better than the one they actually went with, but doesn't quite resolve enough to say "This would have made the movie GOOD!".
Here's the thing that I don't think 2/3s of these faux-doc filmmakers understand: there's a tradeoff involved with going with this style over a traditional one. Yes, you can get away with a smaller crew, less than perfect shots, and a slower pace than you would normally, but you also have to rethink everything about how that camera fits into the story. It's not as simple as just having three actors running around in a scary location (which is exactly what this is) - you have to justify why they're filming, and think about your editing 2x as much as you would in a normal film if you want to pull it off properly. If you can't put that much effort into it, then don't do it. We have enough of them.
What say you?